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Saturday, May 18, 2024

After Almost Half a Century, Russia Initiates Journey Towards the Moon

Russia has successfully launched a spacecraft bound for the moon for the first time in over half a century.

A rocket launched the moderately sized robotic lander Luna-25 into Earth orbit early Friday from a spaceport in Russia’s far east. It plans to attempt a landing in the south polar area of the moon, where the existence of water ice has piqued the interest of several space missions.

Although planning for the mission began long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its launch now coincides with President Vladimir V. Putin’s desire to use space to proclaim Russia’s return to great-power status.

The Soyuz rocket lifted out from the Vostochny launchpad under overcast sky. According to the latest information from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, the Luna-25 spacecraft was put on a path to the moon around 80 minutes after launch. On August 16 it will reach the moon, enter orbit, and try to touch down on the lunar surface as soon as August 21.

The weight of Mr. Putin’s mission to reconstruct Russia has only increased since the invasion of Ukraine. The moon launch is becoming a litmus test for the country’s capacity to forge a new path in the face of Western sanctions and the ongoing conflict. Russia plans to make its own versions of electrical parts it previously imported from other countries for use in future space flights.

As Europe and the United States try to isolate Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, and as Russia strives to develop its political and economic relations with non-Western nations in retaliation, the world will be watching this experiment closely.

Having enough storage at home is also important. Mr. Putin established a new government prize for space accomplishments in May. He presented it to Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space in 1963 and now a member of the Russian Parliament and a devoted supporter of Mr. Putin, in June.

Mr. Putin met with Yuri Borisov, chief of Russia’s space programme, on June 30 and telegraphed his eager attention to the Luna-25 launch. According to the Kremlin’s translation, Mr. Borisov cautioned Mr. Putin that the average success rate for such an operation was about 70%.

Russian planetary science has been stagnant since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2011, after being sent to Mars, an ambitious effort to recover soil and rocks from a Martian moon crashed back onto Earth and burnt up. The Russian space agency issued a postmortem report that placed the blame on budget constraints and insufficient testing.

The Soyuz spacecraft built in Russia continues to safely transport men to the ISS. But the formerly lucrative industry of launching commercial satellites has all but dried up for the country’s space programme.

The Luna-25 lander is scheduled to arrive at the moon on August 16 and enter a circular orbit 60 miles above the surface of the moon’s surface. The lander’s orbit will be an ellipse that descends to within a dozen miles of the surface, and it will take several days to nudge into that orbit. The next planned landing attempt is on August 21.

The primary objective of Luna-25 is to conduct technological tests, laying the framework for further lunar missions. According to Natan Eismont, director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, “this is the test bed that will probably enable us to move forward in the moon research programme.”

If Luna-25 successfully landing, its mission duration will increase to at least 12 months. The major landing site is 70 degrees south of the equator, about to the north of the Boguslawsky crater. Soil will be collected and analysed to see what kind of experiments may be run on it. The lander could be able to unearth some subsurface water ice.

Robotic rovers have been dispatched to the moon by a number of nations in recent years. China is the only country to have accomplished this feat. All previous efforts to land have failed, including an April attempt by the Japanese firm Ispace. The next robotic launch will be for a Japanese government mission, and two American corporations may follow later this year.

It is hoped that Luna-25 would kick off a long line of more daring robotic lunar expeditions. The Luna-26 spacecraft is planned to be an orbiter, whereas the Luna-27 lander will be larger and more capable. Dr. Eismont says that after hitting rock bottom with the loss of Russia’s Mars moon mission, planetary science research in Russia is on the rise.

A Boyle
A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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